NOC tweaked to allow lorries at quarry proposed for bullock carts in Thoothukudi

The move was expected to fulfill the bullock cart riders' long-pending demand, and also generate revenue for the State government.

Published: 14th September 2022 02:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th September 2022 02:04 AM   |  A+A-

Bullock Cart

Bullock Cart (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

THOOTHUKUDI: With the river sand quarry at Marthandampatti, which was earlier assigned exclusively for bullock cart riders for mining, now being extended to sand lorries too, hundreds of bullock cart riders are in the lurch. This sand quarry along Vaippar river had even materialised only because the bullock cart riders held repeated agitations in 2018, urging the authorities to set up a quarry there.

Following the agitations four years ago, the district administration deputed various departments to survey the land for establishing a quarry. On June 20 this year, the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for the project based on reports sent by Kovilpatti Revenue Division Officer, Geology and Mines, Water Resource Department, and the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD).

Referring to the NOC, the district administration promulgated an order on August 1, granting permission to quarry sand to a tune of 26,001 cubic metres or 9,188 units in a 10-acre space on Vaippar riverbed for a period of two years. The move was expected to fulfill the bullock cart riders' long-pending demand, and also generate revenue for the State government.

However, the order allowed sand to be transported from the quarry in bullock carts and also lorries, pointing to the fact that SEIAA had tweaked the NOC issued on June 20, to permit sand lorries at the site. The permission has been granted to mine at most one-metre depth and all operations should be carried out between 7 am and 5 pm. A few other conditions had also been imposed on the quarry operations that should take place under the supervision of the Executive Engineer of the Water Resources Department's Mining and Monitoring Division in Madurai.

Over 500 bullock cart owners in Nagalapuram, Pudhur, Vaippar and Vilathikulam traditionally trade river sand to eke out a living. "We sell small quantities of sand and receive an income of around `500 daily. This being a rainfed tract, crop cultivation can be taken up only for four months in a year. So, trading river sand on our bullock carts helps us make ends meet, and also manual scooping of the sand does not affect the environment," says Sinthan, a bullock cart rider.

Another bullock cart rider said they now transport river sand clandestinely between 12 am to 3 am, as they have no other avenues to earn a living. They urge the State government to immediately intervene in the issue and allow them to sell the river sand. CPM taluk secretary Ka Jothi said, "Previously, the riders were given tokens to sell sand but the practice was prohibited later. In this situation, the government should take steps to provide tokens to bullock cart owners for selling river sand up to a distance of 15 km. This measure will also immensely benefit the construction industry."

Buviraj, district secretary of the Tamilaga Vivasayigal Sangam, which is affiliated with CPM, said that compared to large-scale quarrying of river sand using heavy machinery, manual quarrying of sand by bullock carts is sparse and it also does not endanger the environment. "So, the SEIAA's tweaking of the NOC to permit sand lorries to the quarry is condemnable. The site should be exclusively earmarked for bullock carts," he said.

Farmers oppose setting up of quarry

A section of farmers in the region, meanwhile, raise strong opposition to the setting up of the quarry itself. Farmer OA Narayanasamy of the Tamil Vivasayigal Sangam strongly condemned the district administration for establishing a sand quarry at Marthandampatti. "Operation of sand quarries in adherence to rules is a myth. All former sand quarries here had grossly violated the laws. Moreover, Vaippar river has not been in spate for the past 20 years, so there is no sand deposit on the river bed. Hence, further quarrying of the river bed will deplete the groundwater level, affecting several drinking water schemes and the agriculture activities here," he said.

Speaking to TNIE, Collector Dr K Senthil Raj said complaints regarding the Marthandampatti sand quarry have been taken to the notice of the State government, and the mining has not begun yet. "No activities will take place at the site until the government takes a decision on the matter," he said.


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